BACKGROUND: Adults with eating disorders (ED) show brain volume reductions in the frontal, insular, cingulate, and parietal cortices, as well as differences in subcortical regions associated with reward processing. However, little is known about the structural differences in adolescents with behavioural indications of early stage ED.
AIM: This is the first study to investigate structural brain changes in adolescents newly diagnosed with ED compared to healthy controls (HC), and to study whether ED cognitions correlate with structural changes in adolescents with ED of short duration.
METHODS: Fifteen adolescent females recently diagnosed with ED, and 28 age-matched HC individuals, were scanned with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Whole-brain and region-of-interest analyses were conducted using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). ED cognitions were measured with self-report questionnaires and working memory performance was measured with a neuropsychological computerized test.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The left superior temporal gyrus had a smaller volume in adolescents with ED than in HC, which correlated with ED cognitions (concerns about eating, weight, and shape). Working memory reaction time correlated positively with insula volumes in ED participants, but not HC. In ED, measurements of restraint and obsession was negatively correlated with temporal gyrus volumes, and positively correlated with cerebellar and striatal volumes. Thus, adolescents with a recent diagnosis of ED had volumetric variations in brain areas linked to ED cognitions, obsessions, and working memory. The findings emphasize the importance of early identification of illness, before potential long-term effects on structure and behaviour occur.